Everybody loves Phở, the ubiquitous rice noodle soup with fragrant broth, herbs and succulent meat, but who make the best bowl in Hanoi?
This is important stuff, folks. Why? Because the locals take food very seriously and because Phở (pronounced not like “friend or foe” but more like “fa a note to follow so,” some say a riff on the French dish pot-au-feu or the Cantonese pronunciation of “粉” aka rice noodles) originates from northern Vietnam and because Hanoi’s restaurants have been serving it up since the 1920s. Oh, and because you can eat the stuff early in the morning or late at night, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s the ultimate anytime meal.
Our friend Sean told us the one thing we HAD to do in Hanoi was enjoy the offerings at Phở Gia Truyen in the old quarter where both the Phở and the lineups to get it are legendary.
It took us a few weeks, but today we finally make it… Phở Gia Truyen at 5:15 pm and no lineup! Phở Gia Truyen serves Phở Bo which is beef-based as opposed to Phở Ga which is chicken. You order and pay at the front counter; we choose the most expensive of 3 options, bo tai nam at 50,000 VND a bowl which equals about $2.40. The surly counterman fills up the bowl with broth from the giant steaming pot while his partner chop chop chops the meat beside him. Somehow the spring onions and noodles get in there too, add the hot sauce/fish sauce/orange chiles/spicy vinegar as you like and whoop there it is. Our table mates are a very pregnant Vietnamese lady and her husband but no one’s talking, we’re totally immersed in our bowls, chopsticks in one hand and spoons in the other, heads down and inhaling in all.
It IS delicious. Very delicious. But–dare I say it?–it doesn’t beat the Phở Thin (thin slices of beef sautéed with spring onions, garlic and spices before hitting the bowl of broth) we had for breakfast a while back after that rainy, early morning film shoot… Okay, the gloves are off… Let the debate begin!